Making more of the market

Dining Out

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
January 2013

Lincoln’s star continues to rise and after a year already packed with events and celebrations the city is poised to make further ground as 2013 gets underway.
Traditionally, January can be a tough month after December’s high spots, but there are many projects and initiatives in the frame. The city has everything to play for when it comes to chasing more business, attracting more tourists and developing the talent within its higher education establishments.

Undoubtedly, the current economic conditions continue to give traders a ‘bumpy ride’, but there is so much potential in the melting pot and many business leaders are quietly confident that Lincoln will grow in prominence over the coming months.

On the retail front, Lincoln continues to benefit from having a low level of vacant shops. The latest figures, released by Lincoln BIG, reveal that the retail vacancy rate stands at 7.2 per cent, compared with the national rate of 11.3 per cent (BRC and Springboard). The vacancy rate across all sectors (including office and leisure) also stands at 7.2 per cent.

Several factors are believed to be behind Lincoln’s success, including the ongoing development and growth of the University of Lincoln, Bishop Grosseteste’s new university status and Lincoln’s geographical position as a shopping destination with a substantial catchment area.

Encouragingly, further investment on the horizon and the city’s vibrancy is underpinned by an expanding evening economy, an ever-evolving range of colourful markets and a lively programme of events.

Lincoln BIG chief executive, Matt Corrigan said: “Business-wise, newcomers continue to be attracted to a city which offers them the chance to be part of a mixed trading scene, which has room for multinationals, long-standing family businesses and niche outlets.

“From a trading point of view, businesses can base themselves in prime High Street locations, within the Waterside Shopping Centre, the smaller upper High Street Mall, in Steep Hill – which was crowned the UK’s Greatest Street 2012 – or in the historic Bailgate. Sometimes, this can mean acting quickly when opportunities arise.

“I think Lincoln is still developing as a shopping destination and it is great to see that we are continuing to attract new names on the retail and leisure fronts. Recent arrivals include the wagamama restaurant on the Brayford Waterfront, Gap at St Mark’s and the new late night bar Quo Vadis, in Silver Street.

There are other projects on the horizon – including the £100 million Lindongate scheme and further investment on the University of Lincoln campus. But it is also encouraging to see that homegrown family businesses, such as Ruddocks and Stokes, are continuing to expand.

The Visit Lincoln Partnership is making headway in its drive to tell the wider world about Lincoln and its fantastic mix of famous heritage attractions, such as Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle, as well as city shopping and events.

Lincoln BIG has also recently been named a Town Team Partner, as part of the Mary Portas initiative which aims to breathe extra vitality into town and city centres.

Although Lincoln did not win a share of the £1 million pot of Portas Pilot Funding, shared by twelve destinations across the country, including Market Rasen, it did receive £10,000 as a Town Team Partner. This funding will help to regenerate the markets area.

Lincoln BIG and the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce are also taking a four-pronged approach to supporting local businesses and helping the city to raise its profile.

This follows Lincoln BIG’s success in winning £612,000 from the European Regional Development Fund, in August, for the Revival Lincoln project.

“This grant will be used for minor environmental enhancements in the city centre and to create a stronger IT infrastructure to support the drive to bring more visitors to Lincoln,” said Mr Corrigan.

The development of the Visit Lincoln and Lincoln BIG websites, encouraging graduate input and the wider use of social networking are all part of the mix.

But it doesn’t stop there. A review of the city’s signage and the development of a visitor management strategy and a destination management plan (led by the Visit Lincoln Partnership) are also on the cards.

“The £612,000 in funding, which has the capability of unlocking £1 million worth of improvements, is a substantial amount and the largest single offer of grant support that Lincoln BIG has received to date,” added Mr Corrigan.

Simon Beardsley, chief executive of the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We must not overlook how much has been achieved in profiling the city as a destination for business and tourism. Throughout 2012 we have witnessed a stream of good news against what has been another difficult year for businesses.

“This includes the University’s science park development plans and Bishop Grosseteste being named as the city’s second university, right through to Lincoln College’s Deans building launch and Siemens moving into Teal Park.

“Promoting Lincoln as a tourism destination will gain more momentum next year, following the launch of in November. And great strides are being made by the Visit Lincoln Partnership as every opportunity is grasped to show off Lincoln’s hidden gems.

“But Lincoln has great potential to generate more business and attract international investors. Projects such as Onlincolnshire’s Superfast Broadband campaign, as well as the funded Revival Lincoln workshops, will help give businesses the right tools to succeed.

“And although more work needs to be done, our Chamber members are already reaping the rewards that the A46 dual carriageway gives with better transport links into Nottingham and Derby.

“There is no doubt that the University is helping city businesses, as well as students, to grow. One such example, which the Lincolnshire Chamber has been directly involved in with the University, is its Knowledge Transfer Projects (KTPs) – which have been of huge value to the Boston Visitor Economy Partnership and which have supported the development of the Visit Lincoln Partnership.

“Our goal at the Chamber is to continue helping businesses grow and proposer. This will come through giving them the access to the right tool which will enable them to succeed.”

When considering the phenomenal amount of investment that continues to be poured into the city, it is easy to put this down to Lincoln’s newest arrivals, including branches of major hotel and restaurant chains.

That is far from the whole story. Lincoln’s growing economy has encouraged long-established family businesses to spend on their premises, in ways which are designed to both attract extra custom and keep pace with twenty-first-century demands.

Ruddocks of Lincoln – which has been trading for well over a century and which enjoys a prominent High Street position – has benefitted from an injection of £250,000 over the past year.

And anyone who hasn’t popped into this much-loved store for some time is in for some surprises. A substantial revamp has seen a major staircase leading to the first floor reinstated. This floor has also been opened up to house a much bigger arts, crafts and haberdashery section.

Meanwhile at the rear of the ground floor, shoppers will be delighted to find themselves in a children’s paradise, which is bursting at the seams with colourful educational and creative toys and games. And Ruddocks director, Henry Ruddock says there’s more to come!

“We are currently revamping the original 200-year-old drawing on our first floor to create the Teashop at Ruddocks. This will be a forty-seater café, with a real traditional flavour and a place where shoppers can relax over coffee, tea or a light lunch, whilst enjoying great views of the bustling High Street below,” said Mr Ruddock.

It is hoped that The Teashop at Ruddocks will open in the spring.

R W Stokes & Sons Ltd has just celebrated its 110th anniversary – and the popular Stokes High Bridge Café has marked its 75th anniversary – but it hasn’t come this far by standing still!

The business started life in 1902 when Robert William Stokes had a grocery shop in Guildhall Street, but it has survived two World Wars and recessions galore, and today it is being steered forward by Robert’s great-grandson, Nick Peel.

As a fourth generation director, Nick recognises the need to continue investing in the business to take its name further afield, but he has a challenge on his hands – maintaining Stokes’ much-loved, traditional identity, while grasping new opportunities for the business.

“It is important to keep moving the business forward, but we also want to stay true to our roots. So, in 2010 we added to our traditional ground-floor shop and first and second floor restaurant space, by creating a coffee shop space in the ground floor of the neighbouring premises,” said Nick.

“Just over a year ago, we made another milestone move by taking over the catering operation at The Collection, with the launch of Stokes at The Collection. That allowed us to create more part-time jobs.

“But we have not only invested in staff and premises, we have also spent £100,000 on a special eco-friendly coffee roaster, which has been installed in our Mint Lane roasting house.”
Stokes, which has grown to employ fifty people, also has an online shop and offers a wholesale service to caterers across the East Midlands.

The business celebrated its 75th anniversary in the High Bridge café by offering customers the chance to reminisce over 1930s-style food – at 1930s prices!

Lincoln’s prestigious £100 million Lindongate project remains a major aspiration as the city continues to raise its game as a regional shopping and business destination.

Today Lincolnshire Co-operative’s agent, Banks Long & Co revealed that, despite the recession, there is serious developer interest in this ambitious project from more than one quarter.

Consultant, Peter Banks said: “Lindongate, which would transform Sincil Street, the markets area and key public transport hubs in the city, still has the power to attract developers and a strong anchor retailer to the scheme.

“But significant work has to be done before there can be any progress with the new shop units and transport interchange that form the main elements of the project.

“However, a start is being made, as people using the central railway station and city bus station will have noticed. The demolition of the former Grand Hotel in St Mary’s Street has nearly been completed and is an important first step in the scheme.”

Lindongate is a multi-faceted project. As well as proposals to attract major retail stores to Lincoln and provide a new focus on Waterside South, backed by over 800 car spaces, the development will also feature a reworked bus station and a new footbridge link from the Tentercroft Street and Sincil Bank area.

The University of Lincoln, which last summer unveiled a vision of how its main Brayford Campus might look in ten years’ time, continues to be the focus for major development.

The School of Pharmacy has now been officially established at the university and will be located within the soon-to-be-built science and innovation park – being created in conjunction with Lincolnshire Co-operative.

The school will be housed in a refurbished, iconic 1930s Art Deco-styled building which, following a significant revamp, will offer state-of-the-art laboratories and clinical teaching spaces.

The undergraduate course will be a BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences, with the first intake of students due to start in September 2013. A Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree will also be offered, starting in September 2014.

Newly-appointed head of the School of Pharmacy, Dr Paul Grassby, said the creation of the new school is a fantastic opportunity to develop innovative and exciting courses aimed at ensuring graduates, from both courses, are work-ready to meet the challenges in both the development of new medicines and optimising the use of current medicines.

He said: “There has been an historical shortage of pharmacists in Lincolnshire and as a lot of graduates tend to stay where they study, the creation of the school will address a long-term problem. There is also a need for the local pharmacy community to have a school which they can develop a relationship with, in terms of continuing education, teaching, research and service development.”

Lincolnshire Co-operative runs more than 200 outlets across its trading area, including forty-seven pharmacies.

Head of Pharmacy, Alastair Farquhar said: “We’re looking forward to establishing projects that will see Lincolnshire Co-operative supporting the students, such as offering placements in our pharmacies so they can see how the academic skills they’re learning will relate to the job in practice.”

In creating the multi-million pound science and innovation park, announced last August, the University of Lincoln and Lincolnshire Co-operative are transforming a disused ten-acre site in the heart of the city.

The project will see a substantial plot of land and buildings in Green Lane becoming a hub of science and technology expertise and home to a mix of university and commercial enterprises in what is a first for the city.

The university is also building a new School of Art and Design, next to its existing Architecture building. This is due to open in summer 2013, ready for the start of the new academic year.

Art and Design students currently based at the university’s Cathedral Campus buildings, such as the Greestone Centre, will be moved into the new building.

Last summer was a big landmark for the Lincoln educational facility when it was named as one of the top 50 universities, fulfilling a long-term ambition. After ranking 47th in the Guardian’s University Guide, staff now hope to emulate that status in other major national university guides.

A spokesman said: “It is strong graduate employment prospects and student satisfaction which are the major drivers for our recent progress in the rankings.”

The multi-million pound Lincoln Castle Revealed project is continuing to gather pace.

Lincolnshire County Council tourism development manager, Mary Powell has said that work on the repair of the Castle’s south curtain wall, which has been underway since May, is nearing completion, and people may have noticed that sections of scaffolding are beginning to come down.

Behind them lie the repaired limestone walls, which glow gold on sunny days and which are a much more encouraging sight than the plastic sheeting which protects the stonemasons when they are at work.

“We have now moved onto the Observatory Tower, which is next on our list of areas urgently requiring repair,” said Mary.

“The contract for the east, west and north curtain walls has just been let, after an extensive procurement exercise and Robert Woodhead Ltd has just been appointed. It will operate three teams of stonemasons, enabling us to work on different sections of the walls at the same time.

“Scaffolding will begin in the New Year and the work will operate on a phased approach. That means that wall sections will close at the Castle, as other parts remain open.”

The overarching aim is not only to keep the Castle open while the works are underway, but to allow visitors to share what is ‘once in a generation’ work.

“We will be holding regular hard hat tours of the walls, webcam views of the ongoing work and viewing platforms,” said Mary.

“The next procurement exercise will be for the prison complex; restoration of the Victorian prison, provision of new visitor infrastructure and the insertion of the Magna Carta Vault in the Eastern Courtyard.”

As we went to press the archaeological dig in the Eastern Courtyard was progressing well and the team had dug down through Victorian and Georgian period layers, revealing more information about the drains of that period.

“The Heritage Skills Centre is complete and was open for viewing during the 1,000 Years of Traditional Crafts event. It is now being kitted out with light tables for stained glass work and bankers for stonemasonry. We are developing the course programme and a programme of taster days have already begun,” added Mary.

The Historic Lincoln Trust, chaired by Lord Cormack has set itself the target of raising £2.2m for the building of the Magna Carta Vault and has begun publicising its plans. It is also working on the celebratory events that will take place throughout 2015.

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